When it comes to understanding group behaviour, there is a wide range of different models out there that explain how different personality types work as part of a team. One of these is Belbin's theory of team roles, which posits that there are nine different types of people who all have a unique role when working in a group.
When it comes to managing a team, it can be incredibly useful to know what kinds of personality types you are working with so that you understand how best to delegate tasks and interact with each member. In this article, we explain each of Belbin's nine team roles, what these individuals are like and what their strengths and potential weaknesses are when working in a team.
Dr Meridith Belbin is a British psychologist and researcher whose early work focused on observing group and individual behaviour in the workplace. After an extensive research project studying management teams at what is now Henley Business School, Belbin and a team of other experts from a range of backgrounds formed the basis of the theory of team roles.
In 1981, Belbin published a management book titled “Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail” that proposed that there are nine different personality types that can be identified in any team, each falling under one of three categories depending on their primary strengths. The practical applications of this theory were explained in more detail in the 1993 book “Team Roles at Work”, which established the theory as one of the most important in team management.
As well as identifying that there were nine key roles that people fall into when working in a team, Belbin’s theory also sorted these roles into three different categories depending on their focus; action-oriented roles, people-orientated roles and thought-orientated roles.
The shaper is the team member who drives everyone forwards. They are one of the most useful of Belbin’s personality types to have on a team, as they provide the necessary drive to keep up the momentum of a project and ensure that deadlines are met.
A shaper always has a project’s objectives in sight and motivates their fellow team members to reach these. They are spurred on by challenges and enjoy discovering different ways to overcome obstacles, always bringing a positive attitude to difficult situations.
Shapers tend to be outgoing and extroverted individuals who find it easy to interact with other people and have no problem expressing their thoughts and feelings. They tend to be very driven and are often competitive, finding that pressure only makes them work harder.
Whilst there are many benefits to the shaper personality type, these individuals can sometimes become aggressive in their drive to get things done. Their assertive and outgoing nature may grate on other personalities, and they can be prone to conflict if someone disagrees with their plans.
The implementer is the team member who puts plans in place to get things done. They are good at taking abstract ideas and turning them into concrete plans that lead to a tangible end result.
An implementer is another important part of the 9 Belbin team roles, as they are the driving force behind actually getting things done. They tend to take charge of organising tasks and sorting the practical aspects of a project to ensure that there is a clear plan of action in place that everyone else can follow.
One of the key traits of an implementer is that they are incredibly organised and practical. They are a very reliable member of a team who works through tasks systematically and likes to have a clear direction in mind before they start work.
Possible challenges that an implementer may face is that they don’t tend to cope well when plans change and may be resistant to taking a flexible approach to working. This can sometimes manifest in stubbornness or bossiness, or it may take a long time for them to feel comfortable with a new plan.
The complete finisher in Belbin's team role theory is a role that really comes into its own towards the end of a project. They take aspects of both the shaper and implementer and focus their efforts on helping the project reach its end goal, ensuring that high standards are met and nothing gets missed.
A completer is a very detail-oriented member of a team who will go over the work that has been done to check for errors and tweak any aspects they do not feel are up to scratch. They ensure that a team doesn’t lose momentum at the end of a task and are essential in delivering an exceptional final product or service.
Completers tend to be very focused individuals who have strong values and hold themselves and the work they do to high standards. They take pride in what they do and will go above and beyond to ensure that their work is up to scratch, even if it means working for longer or taking on more tasks.
On the flip side of these traits however is the fact that completers tend to worry quite a lot about whether their work will be good enough, and prefer to take on all the final tasks by themselves instead of delegating to ensure their standards are met. They can also be quite listless at the start of a task before a clear end goal is defined, which can be frustrating for other team members.
The coordinator is what most people would typically think of as a team leader. They have a similar role as the implementer when it comes to Belbin's team roles, but focus on managing the people in the team instead of the specific tasks that need to get done.
A coordinator will typically take charge of delegating the tasks required to finish a piece of work, taking note of the skills available in their team and matching these up to what needs to be done. They have a clear idea of the project objectives but also focus on ensuring that everyone involved has something to contribute and receives the support they need,
Coordinators are confident, mature and good-natured individuals who have excellent people skills and are natural leaders. They stay calm in stressful situations and are good at identifying which people will be right for certain tasks or situations, understanding when additional help might be needed and when they can delegate completely.
A coordinator is an integral part of a team, but because their role involves so much delegation, they can sometimes be left without much work to do themselves. This can cause resentment from other team members, or lead others to feel as though there is an unequal balance of responsibility.
The team worker is one of the 9 Belbin team roles who ensures that all members of a group work well together. They act as a diplomatic mediator in discussions and may speak up for team members who are less confident.
A team worker prioritises cohesion within a team over the team actually reaching their end goal. They are more concerned with maintaining a positive atmosphere and ensuring that everyone feels listened to and represented, often putting other people’s needs ahead of their own.
Team workers can sometimes be taken advantage of because of their caring nature, and may find that they end up stuck in the middle of disagreements. They can also be prone to avoiding confrontation and are often indecisive, which can slow progress in small teams in particular.
However, a team worker can be integral to ensuring that the atmosphere in a team remains positive and that everyone's voice is heard when making decisions and sharing ideas. They tend to be very perceptive, sensitive and empathetic individuals who are very flexible and adaptive in a range of situations.
The resource investigator is the most inquisitive of Belbin's team roles. They like to look at situations from a range of different angles, research all the options available before making a decision, and are driven by the desire to know more.
A resource investigator will often go off on their own to carry out research and then bring back ideas to share with the rest of the team. In some industries, this may involve going and speaking to external clients or making contacts that will ultimately benefit the project’s progress.
Resource investigators are extroverted, optimistic, outgoing and have a positive curiosity about the world around them. They tend to have a strong passion for the projects they work on which is what motivates them to do so much research around relevant topics.
Whilst resource investigators are excellent researchers, they may not be as skilled as other team members and lack the creativity required to come up with their own ideas. They can sometimes lose interest if a project moves away from something they are particularly passionate about, and prefer to work on their own and then present back to a team instead of working collaboratively.
In Belbin's theory of team roles, the plant is the most creative personality type. They are the main source of new ideas and inspiration for the team and use their creativity to fuel discussions and solve problems throughout a project.
A plant is excellent at looking at problems from different angles and helping to move a project along if the rest of the team gets stuck. They tend to have unconventional ideas about where a project should go, which may sometimes be rejected, but ultimately help the team to grow and progress by providing a constant source of new inspiration.
Plants are very creative by nature as well as being free-thinkers who aren’t daunted by challenges. They are an essential part of innovative teams who push boundaries and take projects in new directions, always striving to be different and try something new.
A drawback of this creative personality is that they tend to lack organisational skills and may not be the most reliable when it comes to getting practical tasks done. They are often introverted individuals who prefer to work on their own and may require more patience and sensitivity from other members of the team.
The monitor-evaluator is the strategist of a team. They act as an impartial decision-maker who thinks about the project in the long term and brings an analytical viewpoint to discussions.
A monitor-evaluator remains objective no matter what kind of project they work on and is often quite a reserved individual who is good at staying calm in stressful situations. They are an excellent addition to teams who need realistic grounding to ensure that a project gets completed, and can be incredibly useful when it comes to making decisions.
Whilst having an analytical mind in a team can be a benefit, monitor-evaluators don’t tend to be the most motivated of individuals and won’t often take initiative unless a decision has already been made to do so. They also tend to prefer working alone so that they can remain objective, which other team members may find challenging.
The last of Belbin's nine team roles is the specialist, who provides a high level of expertise on a certain topic in a project. In the real world, they may be brought in as a consultant or may just act as an advisor for a team to share insight on a certain topic or recommend particular methods and ideas.
A specialist is extremely talented by nature and can be the difference between a project being good and being great. They will be highly focused and very professional, answering necessary questions that mean that a project can continue or develop to its next stage.
Because a specialist is often in high demand they don’t tend to be a permanent member of the team, or at least will only work on the aspect of the project that they have been brought in to advise on. This can make it hard for the team to feel like a cohesive unit, and can sometimes lead to tension with other members.
Meredith Belbin first proposed the idea of the nine team roles in 1981 with the publication of the book ‘Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail’. This came after nine years of study observing teams at the Henley Business School and recording the findings.
Belbin’s theory of team roles identified that nine different personality types can be found in teams. These are the resource investigator, team worker, co-ordinator, plant, monitor evaluator, specialist, shaper, implementer and complete-finisher, which are divided into three different categories.
Each of the team roles that Belbin identified has a unique set of strengths and serve a specific purpose when it comes to a team succeeding in whatever task they have been assigned. The idea is that each of these personality types complements each other by bringing different useful skills to the table, and that the best teams have one of each of the team roles.
Whilst not everyone will fit one of the above descriptions perfectly, it can be very useful to have a rough idea of the kinds of roles that people tend to take on when working in a team. This allows you to not only put together balanced teams with a range of skills, but also learn how best to manage and communicate with team members based on their role, leading to more harmonious working.
If you’d like to learn more about the types of roles people tend to adopt when working in a team and how best to manage these different dynamics, we cover this and more in our online ‘Managing a Team’ course.